1 Tank Trip: Callaway Gardens

September 18, 2008

It is considered to be one of the true gems of Georgia, a place where you can really relax and slow down. Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians is a little slice of paradise.

Callaway Gardens. Here they have a mission: "To provide a place of inspiration, relaxation and a better understanding of the living world. And what we translate that today to mean, is connecting man and nature in a way that benefits both", said Rachel Crumbley, the Public Relations Director.

At 13,000 acres, Callaway Gardens is big enough to have plenty of room for both. When you come here, a good place to start is at the Virginia Hand Callaway Discovery Center, where helpful guides can tell you how to get to what you're looking for. And there's an 11 minute long orientation video to get you started.

Near the Discovery Center is an amphitheater with a show dedicated to Birds of Prey. In the show, a hawk, an owl and a vulture take turns showing off their superior hunting skills. Just be sure to duck. It's a popular show for the many school groups that make their way here.

And each student has a favorite bird. For 9 year old Nicole Hart, it's the vulture. The vulture? Why is that?

"Cause I like just the way they look, I think they're pretty cool", said Hart.

There are other birds here, too, such as tropical birds. But where they live, they aren't the stars of the show. There the butterflies are king. This is the Cecil Day Butterfly Center. It's one of the most popular attractions here. Butterflies are shown in all the stages of their lives, from the pupa stage until adulthood. It certainly can be relaxing just watching these guys flutter along.

For even more relaxation, we head over to the Sibley Horticultural Center. Plants from the tropics abound. And if running water is your thing, they even have a waterfall. The center is a mixed indoor/outdoor facility, and to keep the plants going in the winter, they have large doors that can be closed off to keep out the chill.

One building that seems to live up to the ideals of this place is the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. It's a quaint little chapel in the pines, and a popular spot for weddings, about 150 a year are held there. And another place that harkens back to the original mission of the Gardens is Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden. Experiments in crop rotation are carried out here, something that helped the soil to recover after years of erosion from planting cotton.

But it's not just about nature here. Callaway Gardens is well known for its natural beauty, but if you want to get out there and exercise you can do it on either two golf courses or 10 tennis courts.

At the highly rated tennis center, there are eight clay courts and two hard courts to choose from. Racquetball is available as well. But as any golfer knows, this creation of Cason Callaway is best known for its two world class courses.

Said Crumbley, "his original intention was just to create nine holes of golf, build a few little cottages and bring some of his friends that he met through his industrial experience here to visit."

But what if you like biking or walking.  Do they have a way that you can get close to nature while still getting a workout?  "We do, we have five walking trails here at Callaway Gardens and a 10 mile bicycle trail that goes by all of the attractions", said Crumbley.

With all of this exercise, you can build up an appetite. If so, the gardens has several restaurants from ranging from bar and grilles to more formal dining.  With all of this stuff to do here, it might come as no surprise if you can't fit it all in in just one day.  If that's the case: "we offer the Mountain Creek Inn, the Luxury Lodge and Spa at Callaway, the Cottages and the Villas."

And there are more places to stay under construction right now. Like these villas with a nice view of the Mountain View course, but far enough away where the stray golf ball won't wind up in your living room.

Overall, Callaway has something for anyone who wants to get back to nature and have a little fun doing it. The Sanchezs and the Shipleys were up from Macon on the day that we visited. They only needed a few words to describe it: "it's just beautiful. It's real pretty here", said Mary Sanchez.

Certainly, there are many others who would agree. In Pine Mountain, Jay Polk, WALB News 10.

Callaway Gardens is a bit of a drive, but well worth the effort.

The Gardens is about two hours north of Albany, off of U.S. Highway 27. Admission is $13.50 for adults, $6.50 for visitors from 5 to 18, and children under 5 are free.